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Scopes Trial

The Scopes trial was held in Dayton, Tennessee, between July 10 and 21, 1925.  John Thomas Scopes, a biology teacher in the Tennessee school system, was charged with violating the Butler Act, passed in that state on March 31, 1925, forbidding the teaching of "...a certain theory and theories that deny the story of the Divine creation of man as taught in the Bible... [and that] man has descended from a lower order of animals."  Similar laws had been passed since 1923 in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Florida, but the Tennessee law was the strongest.  Scopes TrialScopes was found guilty, fined $100.00, but the decision was later reversed by the Tennessee Supreme Court on the technicality that only a jury could impose a fine over $50.00.

Scopes' defense was built on an assertion that the laws of Tennessee were contradictory of each other, requiring that biology be taught from a particular textbook (Hunter's), in use for many years, which contained a discussion of Darwinism, yet making it a criminal offense to teach this. 

Scopes' lawyers further asserted that the State should prove that Scopes' teaching actually denied Divine creation. Further attempts to prove the unconstitutionality of teaching beliefs of the Bible in schools, to allow testimony of scientists outlining what the elements of Darwin's theory of evolution was and the general acceptance in the scientific and intellectual world, were ruled out of court.  Motions for a new trial were also overruled and the defense agreed to accept a verdict of guilty in order to expedite appeal to a higher court.

The State's case was based on issues which fundamentalist Christians responsible for the law in Tennessee saw as threatening to the religious beliefs of children of Christian parents:  fear of faith's being undermined by the teaching of principles of evolution viewed as contradictory to the Genesis account; an outrage at the assumption that man had descended from animal origins; and a belief that Christianity needed to be defended from gradual acceptance of science by liberal or modernist Christians as equal to or superior to biblical revelation, which was viewed as scientific in its facts as written inerrantly. The defense was successful in excluding the jury from most of the proceedings. Scopes was charged as guilty of violating the law, which prohibited this teaching in Tennessee schools.

The trial basically changed very little, if anything.  Evolution was omitted from textbooks and creationism was taught as it had been for decades. It was later, when plays and films were made about the trial, did people begin to take notice of what took place.  Although many conceptions and re-enactments are inaccurate, the Scopes trial will always be an important factor in the debate and conflict of science verses religion.

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